June 13, 2011
A controversial proposal to place delinquent stormwater fees on property tax bills has been pulled from Tuesday’s City Council agenda at the request of Mayor Steve Bach.
The decision to put the proposal on hold will give the city more time to work with the county to try to come up with an alternative solution, Bach said. The decision was announced Monday afternoon during the council’s informal meeting, which Bach attended.
Bach said he had not been briefed on the proposal when questioned by a reporter Monday morning.
“I don’t have the background on whether that’s an appropriate approach,” Bach said.
“I’m going to go upstairs and ask (Chief of Staff) Steve Cox right now what the background is and see if that’s something I can support,” he added.
The proposal called for the city to turn over more than $1.65 million in past-due stormwater fees and charges to the El Paso County Treasurer’s Office for collection, an approach the previous City Council considered but decided not to pursue.
Former County Treasurer Sandra Damron said Saturday she told the city she wouldn’t add unpaid stormwater fees to county tax bills in 2009. She said she wouldn’t collect the money because it defied the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and was essentially an illegal act for her to collect it.
“My choices were to be sued by the city or be sued by Douglas Bruce,” she said, referring to the author of TABOR.
The Stormwater Enterprise was abolished at the end of 2009 following the passage of ballot Issue 300, which Bruce also authored.
The city, with the help of a collection agency, has recovered more than $1.72 million in unpaid stormwater fees. But it has been wrestling with how to collect the remaining $1.65 million from more than 18,000 delinquent accounts.
Bob Balink, who is now the county treasurer, said he hadn’t been notified by the city about the recent proposal and that he wouldn’t comment until he received a formal request.
“When we get the request, we will certainly take it under consideration and figure out what we’re going to do,” he said.
Amy Lathen, chairwoman of the county Board of County Commissioners, said the county had already made its position clear. But, she added, it’s ultimately Balink’s decision to make.
“We opposed this last year when this came up. I certainly oppose it again this year,” she said.
“I think we need to protect the sanctity of the property tax process, the collection process, and I don’t think enterprises being placed on property tax bills as liens is the appropriate use of that, which is the same position that I had last year,” she said.